Marriage

1Mar

7 Biblical Principles for Dating, Part 2

This is the 2nd post in a series on how to date as a Christian. Click here to read the first post containing the 1st four principles.

 

5. Their identity is in Christ, too. So act like it.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

This one was a game changer for me. When you begin to see members of the opposite sex as equal bearers of the image of God, equal temples in which the Spirit of God dwells and equally ones for whom Christ died, it changes everything.

You no longer see girls as a collection of body parts or guys as the key to acceptance and worth.

This changes how/if you flirt and it changes what you do on dates. This is ultimately the heart of the Gospel: before anyone is your boyfriend or girlfriend, they are first and foremost a child of God and God cares deeply about how his kids treat one another.

 6. Sexual sin damages in a unique way.

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. – 1 Cor. 6:18

Paul is writing to a culture in 1st century Corinth not unlike 21st century America. It is a very distracted city with lots of different worldviews and religious thoughts all mixing together. Notice the way Paul starts the second sentence in v. 18, every other sin.”

Paul is explaining that sexual sin has a different set of consequences than other categories of sin. This is not to say that it separates us more or less from God; all sin is equal in that regard. Instead, Paul is explaining how sexual sin damages and creates baggage that we must deal with long after that sin has been forgiven by God.

It is not hard to see this play out both inside and outside the Church. How many times have you seen a 2nd marriage not stick so a 3rd and 4th are attempted with similar results? Porn addiction has been linked again and again to lower sex drives and less intimate sex lives. Those sins have already been forgiven and fully paid for by Jesus on the cross and in his resurrection, but that does not mean we get to avoid the consequences of bad decisions.

 

7. Jesus redeems ALL our mistakes.

10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more. – John 8:10-11

At first glance, this principle might seem to contradict #6 but this encounter in John 8 will help explain. John 8 begins with a group of religious hypocrites who were tired of hearing about the less than respectable reputation of a promiscuous woman in town. One day they decided they had heard enough of this 1st century reality show and decided to do something drastic.

They Bible says they caught her in the act of adultery which means they laid in wait for her, like a bunch of self-righteous peeping toms, as if there could ever be such a thing.

They literally ripped her out of bed and threw her, naked and ashamed, at the feet of Jesus and demanded Jesus to tell them what to do, since the law said they should stone her to death.

Jesus then uttered some of my favorite words in the New Testament, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)

Jesus dropped the mic and the religious haters dropped their stones and walked away.

Even if you haven’t had sex before marriage, everyone knows the burden of sexual sin. The reality of redemption is that you’re not doomed to have a bad sex life inside marriage if you’ve had sex outside marriage.

Jesus said two things to the woman and every single one of us always needs to hear at least one of them:

  1. “Go and sin no more.” – Jesus has reminded this woman who she truly is, who he created her to be. Far too often, Christians can label all the ethical teachings of Scripture we don’t like as “legalistic” but here Jesus gives her a clear, loving command to simply go and live out that identity. But we can’t live out that identity and never let it affect the decisions we make, people or ways we date, and ultimately where our hope lies.
  2. “Neither do I condemn you.” – These words are necessary because principle #6 is true. Sexual sin produces a unique shame that can spiritually cripple you and allow you to start to believe lies about your acceptance in Christ. Since God, who knows everything about you, more than you even know yourself, refuses to condemn you we can go out in celebration and live like it! Live like you belong to a God who created you, loves you, and knows all your secrets and still refuses to condemn you.

 

Can you think of any other Biblical principle(s) for dating?

29Feb

7 Biblical Principles for Dating, Part 1

Dating is hard.

For the Christian, dating is like every other area of life in that we should be deeply concerned with how following Jesus informs the way we think and act and love.

If you did a Bible search for the word “dating” you know what you come up with? NOTHING.

There are some that feel the Bible prescribes a courtship form of dating because that was the cultural norm in that time. Using that same logic you can make the argument that we should all be polygamous because that was the cultural norm in that time as well.

Instead of direct, explicit instructions, the Bible teaches us several  principles that we can apply to dating and ultimately, the pursuit of marriage.

 

7 Biblical Principles of Dating

 

1. Walk with Jesus.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. – Colossians 2:6-7

Far too often the first step a Christian takes in thinking about how to date God’s way is to sit down and make a list of all the qualities their future spouse needs to have. Then, they only date people who fit the list.

While the forethought is admirable, our first step in trying to date in a way that honors God is to BE someone worth dating. Our faith in Jesus should be active and meaningful as Paul described in Colossians. We should be rooted and built up in Jesus. Lists are just fine but we should make a list for who we need to be first.

 

2. Only date people who walk with Jesus.

The second principle is where you can use your list! In looking for someone to date, you’re really looking for the type of person you will marry. That person needs to have the same active faith you’re living out.

They need to be more than cultural Christians who attend church. They need to be able to explain the Gospel out loud. They need to be able to talk about what Jesus means to them and describe what Jesus has done for them. They should be able to point out ways they are more like Jesus this year compared to last year and be able to share what God is currently teaching them.

 

3. Keep physical boundaries.

Flee from sexual immorality. – 1 Corinthians 6:18

You know what this verse says in Greek? Flee from sexual immorality. Literally run away from it. Since sex is a good gift from God but a gift meant to be enjoyed only in the covenant marriage relationship, sex outside of marriage falls under the category of sexual immorality.

So does pornography, homosexuality, lust, objectification, and crossing physical lines even if you don’t “go all the way.”

If the Bible calls us to run away from something, why are so many of us trying to get as close as possible to the line without stepping over? We are fundamentally misunderstanding God’s heart for us to live a pure life walking with him and honoring others.

Setting and keeping firm physical boundaries helps you flee from sexual sin instead of flirting with it.

If you’re an unmarried Christian I would suggest you consider boundaries that keep you from:

  • sex outside of marriage.
  • living with someone before marriage. (co-habitation)
  • being alone in a private place (apartment, dorm, parked car, etc.)
  • being alone in a room with your computer/phone late at night.
  • sending pictures, Snapchats, etc. that you would not want others to see/know about.
  • laying down (even in an Eno!) with someone you’re not married to.
  • Isolating yourself from godly friends who can hold you accountable.

 

4. No marriage. No commitment.

One of the reasons the Bible doesn’t talk explicitly about dating is there is absolutely zero commitment in dating. It doesn’t matter how many times you say, “I love you” or how long you’ve been together or how many promise toe rings you’ve exchanged.

The covenant relationship of marriage is the only place to find real commitment. Dating can be a wonderful experience but don’t deceive yourself into crossing physical boundaries you wouldn’t normally feel comfortable crossing under the guise of a commitment that simply does not exist.

 

Check back tomorrow for the last 3 principles.

10Jan

6 Things to Remember When Planning a Wedding

Planning a wedding is a precarious mixture of excitement and stress. Remembering these six things will help your planning season go smoothly.

 

1. It’s only one day but it’s also only one day.

You wedding day is just that, a day. One day.

  • Don’t blow so much money that you can’t afford to live the married life your wedding day celebrates. Your wedding should a be a wonderful party…that you can afford.
  • However, it’s also just a day. One day. So make it count! Try and be fully present in every moment, remembering all the small details you’ll forget if you don’t. Hire a great photographer because the pictures from this one day will be some of your most prized possessions.

2. Your wedding day is not all about you.

Your wedding day is a great chance to remember and show gratitude to the people who helped get you here, to the happiest day of your life. This is the only regret I have about my own wedding.

Your bridesmaids or groomsmen have sacrificed time away from their families, jobs, etc. They have purchased whatever shirt/tie or dress combo you required that they will never wear again but they’re wearing for you because they care about you. Make sure they know how thankful you are.

Your parents will have mixed emotions today. On one hand, they could not be happier for you. On the other hand, part of them feels like you’re leaving them for good because after your wedding day, everything changes. Find a special way to honor your parents on your wedding day. Write them a letter. Steal them away for a private toast. Don’t make the mistake of forgetting where you came from because it’s shaped where you are on your special day.

Most importantly, if you’re a Christian your wedding party is a shadow of the party that’s awaiting us in heaven, previewed in Revelation 19:6-9,

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”

 

3. Have a date night every week…with no wedding planning talk allowed.

This doesn’t even need to be explained. Try not doing this for a few weeks. Then try it for a few weeks and see what’s better.

4. You’re also planning to start a life together.

Along with the wedding you’re also planning life together. Part of how you handle the adversity of this stressful season will preview how you’ll handle more stressful times to come. You’re not just planning a party; you’re starting a book together and the wedding is just the first chapter.

  • One practical area in which newlyweds must be on the same page about is finances. I cannot suggest Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class enough. Every engaged couple on the planet should take this class.

 

5. Two becoming one can be painful.

The Bible repeatedly refers to marriage as “two becoming one” (Genesis 2:23, Mark 10:8). As two become one, both people are forced to change.

They certainly change for the better but its because two people are learning to live out the Gospel in each other lives, “looking not only to [their] own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).

 

6. Don’t play the comparison game.

One of the things I’m most thankful for in life is that my wedding happened before Pinterest existed. The only weddings we could compare ours too were ones we had seen in person. Here’s the reality: not many people will remember much about your wedding. They will remember being thrilled for you but they won’t care about how many Mason jars you included in your centerpieces.

Plan well. Work hard. But plan your wedding, not someone else’s.

 

What other tips would you give to people planning wedding?

27Dec

4 Reasons to See a Counselor This Year

This is the year…or is it?

I think it can be if you go see a counselor.

A new year is dawning and goals are being made, life changes being imagined.

I’d like to suggest that the key to seeing those goals accomplished might be you seeing a counselor.

Last year I sought out a counselor for a few reasons. My wife and I needed an outside source to help us see some things a bit more clearly. We both had some changes at work that we wanted to process through with a qualified professional and we were both in a season of life where we just needed some encouragement.

I am so grateful for the Church – the body of Christ. Some reasons are obvious but one subtle reason for my gratitude has been a shift I’ve noticed over the last decade or so – Christians are speaking out loudly about the need and help that professional counseling provides. In doing so, pastors and other notably visible leaders are helping to shatter the negative stigma counseling has carried for far too long.

Seeing a counselor doesn’t make you weak. It proves you’re strong.

A few notes:

Pastors are not counselors.

I’m a pastor and am trained for a lot of situations – but serving as a professional counselor is not one of those areas. I am not qualified or capable. If you find a pastor who claims to be without the required credentials and education/experience, run. As a pastor, I can provide spiritual direction and some sense of general wisdom – but most of my job relationally is simply to be with them and remind/help them to see that God is with them.

See: 7 Questions to Ask on Date Night: From a Pastor and a Therapist

See: 7 Questions to NEVER Ask on Date Night: From a Pastor and a Therapist

Counseling is affordable

We had to adjust our budget to accommodate for the expense but we didn’t have to make a drastic change to afford counseling. We just stopped wasting some money. When people complain about not being able to afford counseling my first response is usually, “How can you afford not to get help?” Then, I ask if they have cable or satellite TV service. One of those two responses usually solves the problem.

However, if the financial burden sincerely is great, there are options. Churches may be able to help defer the cost and in my town there are fantastic counseling options with income-based payment options. Basically, there is simply no good excuse.

 

4 Reasons to See a Counselor This Year

1.) To help you see blind spots.

Sometimes all you need is an outside perspective with the skills to see into your situation. It is easy for us to get tunnel vision in certain areas of life and fail to see a simple solution because it might not be as obvious to us and it is to a counselor. A lot of answers to our problems lie just outside of our sight. Counselors can help you see the blind spots.

2.) To be encouraged for what you’re doing right.

As long as you’re making a sincere, full effort, counseling should never feel like a beat-down. It can feel emotionally draining but that part if often necessary. Think about whatever issue you’re struggling with right now. Maybe your marriage is strained or you’re struggling with feeling inadequate as a parent – maybe you are still dealing with some hurt in your past. Whatever it is, imagine how good it would feel if you could share that part of your life with someone and be encouraged that it might not be as bad as you have made it out to be.

Maybe you’re doing more right than you realize.

Some of my favorite moments of counseling have been receiving encouragement for what I didn’t realize I was already doing well. That give you motivation to work on whatever you’re currently not doing well.

3.) To achieve better work/life balance.

Everyone says they want this but nobody really wants to make it happen.

Too many lazy people talk about work/life balance but they’ve never really learned how to work too hard in the first place. Too many workaholics talk about work/life balance but have no real intentions to stop making work an idol in their life.

Seeing a counselor this year can help you actually achieve work/life balance because they can help you achieve what matters most.

Counselors tell you the truth about you.

If you’re lazy, they’ll tell you. If you need to stop and rest, they’ll tell you.

4.) Strengthen the most important relationships in your life.

This is the best reason to go to counseling. Whether it’s your spouse, kids, or your parents – these are the most important people in your life. Or at least they can be. Maybe counseling is just what you need to repair or renew those relationships.

See: 13 Questions to Gauge if You Need Marriage Counseling

14Jul

Being Honest in a Hypocritical World

In a recent article in the Atlantic, The Hypocrisy of Professional Ethicists, Emma Green compiled years of data mined from studies done on the ethical implications of various professions. She sought to discover if people who, at least in part, give advice for a living were practicing what they preached.

Some of the conclusions were what one might expect in a study like this.

  • One study of 500 doctors found 38% to be overweight. The national average is only 33%, although doctors rate of obesity is lower than the national average.
  • Nearly 4,000 police officers in Florida were surveyed and almost 800 of them had been found to be driving 90-130 mph on toll roads, many while off duty.
  • According to a security company’s study, most of the shoplifting that occurs in the retail stores is committed by employees, not shoppers.

Yet the main point of the article was fascinating. It discovered that ethicists, people who think, write, and teach what is right and wrong for a living are noticeably less ethical than both the general population as well as other non-ethics professors. Not only that, but on many occasions their behavior directly contradicted their stated beliefs. 

  • 60% of ethicists surveyed said they found eating red meat to be morally wrong, yet only 27% do not regularly eat it.
  • Ethicists are not more likely to vote donate blood, or register as organ donors.
  • Books on ethics checked out of the library are more than 50% likely to be permanently missing as compared to other books.

But if you’re reading this, you are most likely not an ethicist. Frankly, I do not know any that I like.

So what about the rest of us?

 

What if the way we live our lives and make our daily decisions was analyzed? Would we be hypocrites or legit?

 

As a Christ-follower, I have a firm commitment to be as honest and open as possible. We, more than anyone, have nothing to hide because our failures, weaknesses, and shortcomings only make the God we serve look that much more glorious for loving us. See: Fake or Real?

I wonder…what would the statistics look like if we compared the lives of Christians to the lives of non-Christians? Could you tell a difference? Would there be a difference in your life? In mine?

Two arenas jumped into my mind where Christians can be legit and really make a difference.

Christians need to be legit in our marriages. 

SplitShire-8645

Our church wrapped up a series on marriages a few months ago and in one of our home group sessions, one of my friends said, “I’m not sure there’s a more consistent testimony to the faithfulness of God than a committed, loving marriage.”

She is absolutely right. While you in no way need to be married to bear witness to God’s faithfulness, marriage is a nearly universal experience in our culture, regardless of your particular belief system.

But marriage can be tough, and I think sometimes Christians tragically forget that they married an imperfect person. Much more often, they forget that they themselves are imperfect.

When two selfish sinners (all of us) are able to selflessly give themselves to one another in the covenant (not contract) of marriage, and stick with it for six or seven decades, people will ask, “How do you do it? What’s the secret?” They can answer simply that they spent their lives giving one another the love that God so richly gave to them through Jesus.

Christians need to be legit in the workplace. 

hardwork

One of my favorite articles ever written is entitled, “Today’s Lazy Youth Pastor.” In it, Jonathan McKee laments the state of many youth workers he comes into contact with, thinking they’re overloaded with work, stretched too thin, or burned out. While that is definitely true for some, it happens much more in other staff positions.

I wonder if that article could be written about you at your job. Today’s Lazy ________.

Christians send a loud message of the faithfulness of God when they work harder than their co-workers. When asked what gives them such drive and ambition, they can respond simply with Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…you are serving the Lord Jesus Christ.”

I love those verses because while they include pastors, that is not the primary audience…“WHATEVER you do.”

  • If you’re a school teacher, when you work hard you’re serving the Lord.
  • If you’re a CEO, when you work hard you’re serving the Lord.
  • If you’re a plumber, when you work hard you’re serving the Lord.
  • If you’re a stay-at-home Mom, when you work hard, you’re serving the Lord.
  • If you’re a used-car salesman, or a lawyer, when you work hard you might be serving the Lord. 🙂

When Christians are lazy at work, we fail to be honest. We become hypocrites who make Jesus look like a fake if we are constantly give half-effort.

“If you show up on time, WORK while you are at WORK, and smile you will be noticed. Most people don’t even do that.” – Dave Ramsey

In what other areas do Christians need to be legit? 

8Jul

How to See God’s Grace When it Seems to Disappear

My favorite annual tradition might be my wife’s least favorite, probably because she does all the work.

Every year, she creates a coffee-table photo-book of all of our adventures from the last year. I don’t know about your life but ours at times is somewhat uninteresting. We love to travel but some years we don’t get to do that as much as we would like.

These photo books help us remember good days that would be easy to forget.

One book has a full page dedicated to a day spent in the park with our dogs. Nothing super eventful happened that day but it was a day we celebrated the simple things in life and I remember that day now even though it was rather uneventful and almost five years ago.

Another book has several pages dedicated to a night at my first church where we took our entire youth group of 12 students over to an 80-year old woman’s house and played croquet and grilled hot dogs. A lot has happened ministry-wise in my life since that night but I remember it because it’s in the book. Dozens of other nights just like it happened but I can’t remember them, and they were not that long ago.

Life is busy! Things get hectic and while we remember big vacations and fun road trips, we can easily forget the simple days and good but uneventful nights.

The same is true with faith.

We can remember the big events.

  • A life-changing week at camp, free from normal distractions.
  • A mission trip spent serving someone else.
  • A baptism, a public declaration that we belong to Jesus.

But what about all the other good, but uneventful days?

  • When we needed a friend to reach out and they did.
  • When we didn’t feel like going to church but went anyway and had a real connection with a real, loving God?
  • When what we read from Scripture that day was somehow exactly what we needed to hear.

If we’re not careful, those good but uneventful days are easily forgotten like days in the park or nights playing croquet with a dozen teenagers and an 80 year-old woman.

So then what happens when the good but uneventful days are forgotten and bad days come?

Dark days move in, like a 35 year-old kid who won’t move out of Mom’s basement. They’re here to stay. In those days we find ourselves asking, “Where is God?”

The feeling of doubt must be universal.

If you’re a Christian, you know that God’s grace is present and active but sometimes it feels like it’s at best expired, if it even exists at all.

Like a questionable carton of milk sitting on the refrigerator shelf long past its “best if enjoyed by” date, in times of doubt God’s grace seems like an outdated form of comfort that seems good enough for some people but never quite sufficient enough for others, for those of us with questions.

Real questions. The kind of questions that keep you up at night, wrestling with God in deep thought.

  • Why did ____________ happen?
  • Why does the world have to be this way instead of that way?
  • Why is there so much suffering?

My generation has often been turned away from church and faith because they feel the faith of their childhood and the status of the Church today simply does not allow room for their doubts and questions. We have made an idol out of theological certainty which suffocates any attempts to wrestle with God.

But we do have to arrive at some level of certainty. How?

4 Ways to Remember God’s Grace When it Seems to Disappear

1. Timehop – an app that reminds you what you posted on various social media networks that same day 1, 2, 3, etc. years ago.

I love social media. Roughly 10% of my articles are focused directly on social media. I love how it makes the world small. I love how it connects me with people from church throughout the week. I love how it connects me and my wife to our families that both live out of state.

My favorite thing about social media is the platform it allows people to create to share a message, and I love when people genuinely talk about Jesus on that platform. A few days ago, my Timehop brought up dozens of tweets and Facebook posts from students that I had reposted on my various social media accounts. The posts they shared were from a mountaintop experience, literally, that is still one of the most powerful moments of my spiritual life. I woke up not thinking about that time, about God’s grace on display. Yet Timehop reminded me.

It doesn’t have to be a mountaintop experience. Maybe it’s a quote from a sermon or a verse that you read at just the right time. If you posted it, Timehop reminds you of it.

2. Journaling

I have never been much of a journaler. At times I felt like less of a Christian because of it but there have been seasons of my life where journaling has played a huge role in my walk with Christ. The great think about journaling, especially journaling when you may not feel like it, is that you slowly build this library of personal testimony to the faithfulness of God.

Whenever doubt creeps in, you get to kick it to the curb because you can go back and re-read some of your old journals. You’ll remember trials you had forgotten because God overcame them. You’ll remember triumphs you had forgotten because there’s too much goodness in God’s grace to record.

3. Get together with people.

Was there a time in your life where you know you were close to God? Who was with you then? Who shared those times and places with you? Find them. Call them. Eat with them. Remember with them.

4. Watch/listen.

Do you have some type of media that recorded a time you were close with God? Maybe it’s a baptism video. Watch it. For me, I can remember the cheesy, “contemporary” Christian song that was playing when I finally decided to obey God’s calling on my life to pursue ministry as my vocation.

While you are unable to recreate that experience or time, you can remember what it was like to be close to God. You can use those tools to remind yourself what is really true.

“And when the lies speak louder than the truth, remind me that I belong to you. And when I can’t see past the dark of night, remind me you’re always by my side.” – Bret Stanfill, “Sons and Daughters of God”

29Jun

I Went to Church Anyway

We live in a broken world groaning for redemption (Romans 8:22).

Even though this is always true, it is evident some weeks more than others.

Over the last week or so our country has been engaged in nationwide debate, from inside the walls of the Supreme Court to the virtual walls of Facebook users.

The two arenas of discussion, race and sexuality, are obvious tinder for a digital firestorm because of their universal nature. It makes sense that everyone has an opinion even if some of their opinions do not make much sense.

While I was more pleased with the conversations I had in person last week surrounding these issues, I firmly believe in the purpose and value of engaging in these topics on the mediums we have available. Those mediums have changed and will continue to do so over time but right now, the Internet in general and social media in particular have connected the world in unprecedented ways.

Christians who leverage that opportunity and those mediums to discuss current issues through the lens of a Christian worldview can be missionaries like the apostle Paul, who reasoned with people in the marketplace for days upon entrance into a new city.

While there is definitely wisdom in knowing when to speak and when to be silent (See: Just Stop Talking), Christians should not fear engaging others with their various social media platforms as long as they are focused on getting it right more than being right. It’s true, Sometimes You Need a Facebook Timeout but sometimes you need to speak up.

“Speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” – Proverbs 31:8

But what about when Christians cause problems by engaging others in conversations about current issues on social media?

The easy answer is something like, “The diversity of the Christians faith points to a diversity of opinions on various current issues.”

I guess…

But if we’re honest, doesn’t it feel more personal than that?

I wrote about my personal opinions regarding the Confederate Flag last week. The article took off, relatively speaking, as things that are written at the right time around hot button issues do.

I spent most of the next day responding to people’s questions and opinions (both supportive and critical). I didn’t necessarily care much what people felt about my opinions but I did care that people at least listen to the real opinions I gathered from black, Christian friends who are equally proud to be Southerners yet generally had very different experiences than the people I seemed to hear most loudly.

What was most frustrating was not people unwilling to listen to me but people unwilling to listen to them.

Some of these people were not just Christians but Christians in my city, and not just Christians in my city, but Christians at my church.

Most of the conversations went very well, and I was reminded how great the opportunity I have to pastor where I do really is. But some conversations did not go so well…my church might have shrunk last week, and I am okay with that because I honestly believe in what I wrote.

However, like it often does, Saturday night rolled around and my brain switched over to Sunday prep mode. I started running through the morning in my head. Logistics, set list, sermon, volunteers. etc.

One of my favorite parts of Sunday prep is praying for specific people to show up. It gives me chills to see people far from the Church and ever farther from God walk through the doors of our church on a regular basis.

Yet this last week I found myself struggling to want to pray, struggling to want to see some people I sincerely love but who also disagree(d) with me. Honestly, I think I’m right and I think they’re wrong but they feel the same way.

So Sunday morning comes, and I head to church. It would have been an easy weekend for me to miss. I was not scheduled to preach. I could have had a “stomach bug.”

But I went to church anyway. It had nothing to do with my job and everything to do with Jesus.

As I started to pray, even though I didn’t feel like it, a funny thing happened; I started to feel like it. I remembered that, for all the things that can divide us, Jesus is what unites us.

So I went to church. I shook hands and gave hugs and had a tremendous day. I was sincerely glad to see everyone, especially the people who disagreed with me most loudly because I know the list of essentials we must believe to be known and loved by the same God is small:

Jesus came. Jesus died. Jesus rose again.

When I said those words from stage during our welcome time, I meant them with every fiber of my being. That’s what makes us sons and daughters of God. That’s what unites us.

We don’t need to agree on everything. As much as we all wish everyone thought just like us, we actually don’t need to agree on most things but we must agree on the Jesus things.

Everything else is secondary.

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

22Jun

Fake or Real?

“We’ll just rip out the old carpet,” she said.

“We’ll just throw down new flooring,” she said.

“We might as well do the whole house. 2000 square feet will go fast,” she said.

Famous last words…possibly of my marriage.

Over the last few months we have slowly but surely been installing new floors in every room of our house. My wife has chronicled our flooring adventures over on her website here.

Frustration hit an all time high when I had to demolish some really old tile which was glued to the concrete with all the adhesive ever manufactured in 1976.

I needed to buy an angle grinder, a tool I fully planned on never using again so instead of spending $100 at Lowe’s I spent $15 at Harbor Freight. What could possibly go wrong?!?

I’ll tell you…everything.

7 minutes in and the Harbor Freight $15 angle grinder starts spewing smoke…blue smoke and then shuts down. Fried.

I furiously drove to Lowe’s and bought the $100 angle grinder minutes before they closed and returned home to finish the job.

It took forever but it’s done. I still get a little frustrated when I look at that area, not because it took so much longer expected but because I pursued a counterfeit instead of the real deal.

I find myself doing this with more than angle grinders.

I used to chase a lot of fake, surface level friendships instead of putting in the work and time to foster meaningful friendships. I thought being known by a lot of people meant being really known. That’s counterfeit friendship.

When I first started preaching I would listen to tons of other preachers, trying to find my own voice while emulating what was effective in others. I would try and be more serious than I really was or more funny that I really was. It took me several years to find my personal voice in preaching because I was chasing something fake instead of the real.

I used to pursue fake relationships because they were easier than putting in the hard work of finding someone who was actually worth finding. Even worse, I wasn’t always sure I wanted to put in the hard work to BE someone worth finding.

Just because fake is easier than real doesn’t mean it’s what’s best.

In the work place it can be a lot easier to complain about a co-worker instead of doing the hard work of reconciliation and pursuing real partnerships.

Following Jesus can be difficult because honestly, denying myself sure feels fake in a culture that defines “real” as do whatever feels good to you.

In Psalm 51, David is getting real with God. He’s just had his fakeness called out in a huge, life-changing way and he comes to this beautiful realization…God loves the REAL us and wants us to be real with him, not fake.

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:16-17

Do you ever struggle with pursuing something fake instead of something real?

23Feb

Make the Snow Day(s) Count

I have lived my entire life in the South.

We tend to freak out a bit when it snows. Or ices. Or slushes. Or rains.

Or when the temperature plunges below 60 degrees.

The last few days we have had a few inches of snow, nothing like what our friends in Boston are enduring but enough to cancel a few school days, especially in the more rural parts of our area.

Snow days keep kids home from school and many adults home from work. Snow days present us with an interesting opportunity if we take advantage of it.

5 Ways to Make the Snow Day(s) Count

1.) Do something adventurous.

Start a snowball fight. Grab a trash can lid and find the nearest hill to sled down. Build a snowman without singing Frozen! Find an empty parking lot and do something crazy.

Maybe don’t do that last one but you get the idea…get off the couch and do something awesome!

2.) Do something restful.

Maybe the adventurous route is not for you. Your life is hectic enough and the snow day presents an unusual opportunity for you to rest. One of my former students recently wrote a great article about the need to be still.

Take a nap. Read a book. Make a fire. Enjoy the silence. Draw a bath. Journal. Whatever you find life-giving and restorative, do that this snow day. The busyness of life will still be there when the snow melts.

3.) Work anyway.

One of the only things I dislike about snow days is how they can really mess up the rhythm of the week. If you’re like me, there are certain things I do every Monday morning or Thursday afternoon, etc.

Most of these tasks need to be accomplished snow or shine. As I’m able to on snow days, I just do them so things don’t fall off my plate as the week progresses.

4.) Spend quality time with family.

If you get the opportunity to spend a snow day with family, don’t waste it. Don’t do #3. Cuddle with your spouse. Throw snowballs with/at your kids. I am not yet a parent, so I do not know the parental dread that comes with hearing schools are closed.

But I do know that if you have children, you have a blessing many do not have. Don’t take that for granted today.

5.) Chip away at your dream.

You are living on borrowed time, my friend! Whatever your dream is, you have a day, today, to get closer to seeing it become a reality.

Want to write a book? Punch out a few chapters today.

Want to start your own business? Iron out the next part of your business plan.

Unsure of your next step? Find someone who’s successful at what you want to do and read their book today.

 Question: How do you make the snow day(s) count?

29Jan

Every Christian Needs a Budget

15 months ago we owed a mountain of it. Now we owe half a mountain of it.

It used to be the only thing we ever fought about.

Now it’s possibly what we’re in the most agreement about.

Money

 

The turning point for us was not adding up the total carnage our student loans (a necessary evil) had caused. It was also not the months and months of not really knowing where our money was going because we always seemed to have what we needed.

The turning point for us came when we realized that managing our money was not primarily a financial issue but a discipleship issue.

In our journey through Dave Ramsey‘s Financial Peace University (which my wife now teaches at our church, like a boss) we realize that we were doing an okay job of honoring God in every part of our lives…except our finances. (Click here to find out where FPU is offered in your area).

We were being selfish, ungrateful, poor stewards of what God has entrusted to us.

The Bible has a lot to say about money, but this one passage has been burned in my memory since the day God started convicting us about the way we were failing in this area. We were sitting at our kitchen table and it hit me like a ton of bricks:

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations? – Proverbs 27:23-24

My mom has sheep in her backyard. Like…actual sheep. Every couple of months she has some new lambs born and she bottle feeds them until they can take milk from their mom.

I, unlike my mother, am not a shepherd. I do not have flocks and herds but I do have debt and income that at times feels like it’s burning a hole in my pocket.

As we looked at the numbers that were looking rather menacingly back at us, I realized I did not “know well the condition of our flocks.”

We didn’t have a budget. I wasn’t “giving attention to our herds.” When we wanted something, we just bought it. We didn’t have extravagant tastes and we didn’t shop a ton, but a bit too much is still…too much.

So we got on a budget. A strict one.

But we didn’t get on a budget because it was the wise thing to do. We didn’t get on a budget because we needed structure. We didn’t even get on a budget because Dave Ramsey told us too.

We got on a budget because we are Christians.

We got a budget because we started living what we said we believed, and what the Bible says is true:

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” – Psalm 24:1

We both make more money now than we did the day we first discovered we needed a budget. We both plan to continue to make more money as we gain more experience and skill in our respective careers.

However, we will never make enough money to not need a budget because we will never stop being borrowers of that which God is eternal owner.

Even if you make truckloads of money, you will one day be held accountable for how you managed it. You and I don’t really own anything as long as God owns everything. We’re managers at best.

It’s been said before, but can you imagine what the world would be like if the Church was debt-free and lived on a budget?

Think of the problems that could be eliminated as a direct result of the way Christians lived in the world, refusing to stockpile treasures in this world.

Nobody in the world would be hungry. No orphan would go neglected and unloved. Churches would not need to have capital campaigns to pay off buildings they can’t afford because they would be filled with people who were more concerned with loving people and furthering the kingdom of God than building bigger barns and fancier buildings.

We all (especially me!) need budgets so we can best manage that which God has entrusted to us.

budgetquote

You can click here for the zero-based monthly cash flow budget template we use every month.

Question: Do you use a budget? If so, how has your experience been? If not, are you pleased with the current state of your finances?

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